JEWELRY NEVER WAS my thing. Unlike most women I know, I don’t have pierced ears. God didn’t make holes in my lobes, so why should I? I have lived with, and regularly lose, clip-ons at a fast pace.
Though I admit to craving the occasional ring, pin, necklace or bracelet—though nothing clunky or expensive—I never minded a lack of sparkle or enhancement. My substitute, my companion piece, was an understated Danish-designed watch from Skagen, so reliable and self-effacing.
Then recently while out walking, I suddenly realized that my left wrist was bare. In a moment of haste I must not have closed the stainless-steel clasp tightly enough. Panic ensued, the way one feels when a pet has gone missing. Exaggerated emotion, perhaps, though no less real. A watch is just a thing, after all, nearly irrelevant in an age when digital devices keep people up-to-the-minute, in tune with the world.
Luddite I may be, I considered my watch a ballast, helping keep me upright. Without it, I had sense of being disconnected from my surroundings, a kind of existential dread. I was unlikely to recover it, having gone a considerable distance from home. I tried retracing my steps anyway, without luck.
In our planned-obsolescence consumer culture I wasn’t likely to find the same model available either online or in stores. The original had come from a small but eclectic selection at the National Building Museum’s fine shop. (Much longer ago, in the same vein, I had on a whim bought a Japanese-made watch at Miami’s Wolfsonian Museum of Decorative and Propaganda Art. It was a plaything of sorts, though practical, too, since its numbers glowed in the dark. I wore it until the bright yellow plastic band broke in two and I found the Skagen.
Both of these were so-called “fashion watches,” and, as a Nordstrom clerk told me, sales in the fashion category had hit a new low of late. The more expensive and more versatile Apple watch favored by as many women as men was the reason: It had become the new status icon.
Swatch is fun and popular in some circles, but the models I saw looked too lightweight and ephemeral. The latest Skagen models at a Macy’s counter featured Swarovski crystals—too much glitter for me. Online options were numerous, but none came up to the mark, being either too fussy or too large.
Compromise ensued. I would buy a black plastic China-made creation for everyday use while continuing to look for a replica of my lost friend. Back at the Building Museum I found a simple style with the words “Prime Time” written in white at the center. Being a mathematical dunce, I didn’t get the joke at first. The only numbers highlighted on the face were prime (ones that can’t be divided except by themselves or 1). Curiously, its package was a little black and gray box marked “Tempus Fugit” on the top and “The Unemployed Philosophers Guild” on the side. The box may have cost more than the watch.
So clever, these Chinese. So gullible, we Americans.
Checking for a philosophers guild online, I came up with a website offering other similarly odd, slightly comic items for sale under the same label. The explanation was tongue-in-cheek. ”Part of every purchase you make goes to philosophically profound causes,” it said. “The other part goes to extra gold-plated faucets in the Ivory Tower bathrooms.”
I still hankered after some elegance, something that spoke to my personal taste. Luckily enough, passing by a downtown jewelry store one day, I glanced in the window and saw what looked to be a timepiece remarkably similar in size and shape to my old Skagen. What’s more, an obliging clerk inside offered me a whopping reduction if I bought it that day, her last one on the job, she claimed: “In honor of my retirement.” It was an enticing low-key Danish design, by Bering, with a “solar- activated” mechanism and the same silvery mesh band. Its box was another fancy, more “fashionable” package: a lidded round opaque glass jar, “so useful for holding flowers or keys and things,” the clerk noted.
A watch is just a watch until it isn’t.
Left: Here’s the super-sleek solar watch from Bering that Ann finally bought. She found it at Robert Laurence Jewelers, at 1202 G Street NW in Washington, DC, but it can also be found at Beringstores. It’s $199.
Center: Minimal and yet somehow extravagant, the La D de Dior diamond and stainless steel bracelet watch is $4,950 at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Left: A lovely watch to remember Kate Spade by: the Holland Strap watch in navy leather, with a navy mother-of-pearl face and the sparkly markers of a starry, starry night. It’s $225 at Lord & Taylor.
Center: The Heure H watch from Hermès, in stainless steel and leather. It’s at Saks Fifth Avenue, and, in the context of Hermès prices, its $2,775 price tag is pretty reasonable. Many variations here, including gold plating on the H, costly alligator bands, and even a diamond-and-alligator combo that blasts past the $12,000 mark.
Right: The classic Movado Museum watch face is for design purists (and, yes, for those who can tell time without numbers or hour markers). This stainless-steel mesh-bracelet version is $695 at Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks carries many variations on the Museum theme: leather and bracelet bands and also a few versions that have diamond hour markers on the face.
Left: At first Ann didn’t get the joke of the Prime Time watch by The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, but look at the numbers on the face. The watch is $39.95 at the Philosophers Guild. The “guild” also sells a Relativity watch (watch those numbers go around) , a Sisyphus watch (watch him push that rock), a Salvador Dalí watch (his mustache goes round and round), not to mention the Freudian slippers, the Wife of Bath soap. Okay, we’ll stop now.
Center: For a bit of sheen, Shinola’s Canfield mother-of-pearl goldtone stainless-steel watch with leather strap. It’s $700 at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Right: The Kyboe! Rose Gold Sport Watch with mint green accents may be as far from the simple Skagens and Berings as you might like to travel. It’s $240 at Saks Fifth Avenue. The band is silicone and the case is stainless-steel with a rose-gold tone.
Just a little bit different, this Swatch watch with a rubber band is for people who can tell time without the little numbers (but a whole lot of lines). List price is $60, slightly less at the Swatch shop on Amazon.